More assertive action to enhance the contribution of America's nonfederal forests is needed. Additional investments, including those in human resources, providing access to information on maximizing the value of forests to landowners and the public alike, and assisting landowners with skills and knowledge to effectively understand and utilize this information are necessary if America is to realize the potential of nonfederal forest resources. These investments will require contributions by all segments of the nation's public and private forestry community, including the federal government.
The federal role in sustaining nonfederal forests has taken various forms over the years and has been aimed at various perceived problems during specific time periods. In the early days, attention focused mainly on protection of timber supplies from wildfire, insects, and disease. Subsequently, federal interest turned to water quality, wetlands, air quality, and endangered species. Now these concerns have expanded to include biodiversity. The federal role has been mainly to prompt the states to take action to meet goals defined by federal law (e.g., Clean Water Act) or to address identified problems such as wildfires and insects. The prompting has often been in the form of technical and financial assistance to states. But the federal government also has provided more direct assistance to forestland owners in the form of financial incentives, including special income tax treatment. In the past 25 years, the relationship between federal and state government has changed substantially, with more responsibility for program development and implementation shifting to the states and federal agencies increasingly serving as facilitators or catalysts. Thus, the federal government's role has changed dramatically and in some instances, the implementation of federal policies on private lands has substantially eroded the relationship between private landowners and the federal government.
Today, the federal role in ensuring the sustainability of the economies, communities, and environments that rely on the nation's nonfederal forests is as diverse as the nonfederal forests themselves. The many federal programs and agencies that currently target nonfederal forests reflect this diversity. Some major federal roles that can foster sustainability of the nonfederal forests are: